Make order out of piles of bills and receipts by knowing what you should retain and what you can toss out.
Emily Mencken's computer desk
Credit: Marc Royce

This list will tell you at a glance which financial records you should retain and which ones you can dump.

Toss Every Month

  • ATM And bank-deposit slips, after you've recorded the amounts in your check register and checked them against your monthly bank statement.
  • Credit-card receipts, after you've checked to make sure the item appears correctly on your monthly statement.
  • Sales receipts for minor purchases, after you've satisfactorily used the item and if it has no warranty.

Toss After One Year

  • Monthly bank and credit-card Statements (if you don't itemize deductions).
  • Monthly or quarterly brokerage and mutual-fund statements, after you've reconciled them with your year-end summary.
  • Monthly mortgage statements, as long as your year-end statement clearly shows the total amount you've paid in interest and property taxes over the course of the year.
  • Phone and utility bills (as long as you don't have a home office, use your phone for business calls, or anticipate any need to prove long-term residency).
  • Paycheck stubs, after you've reconciled them with your annual W-2 or 1099 forms.

Retain for Seven Years

  • W-2 AND 1099 forms.
  • Year-end statements from credit-card companies.
  • Phone and utility bills (only if you deduct any portion for business expenses, have more than one home, or have moved within the past few years).
  • Canceled checks and receipts/statements for: annual mortgage interest and property taxes, deductible business expenses, child-care bills, out-of-pocket medical costs, or any other tax-deductible expense.

Keep Indefinitely

  • Annual tax returns.
  • Year-end summaries from financial-services companies.
  • Confirmation slips that list the purchase price of any investments you own.
  • Home-improvment records.
  • Receipts for major purchases (any item whose replacement cost exceeds the deductible on your homeowners' or renters' insurance policy).
  • Benficiary designations.